What do researchers, ticket inspectors and debt collectors have in common? When it comes to doing our jobs, we’re not always the most popular people in the room. As researchers, we know the value of honest feedback but it’s often difficult to present findings to clients without worrying that we’ll alienate or upset them. After all, they’ve put many hours into a product or service that you’re about critique, so it’s natural to be hesitant about the process.
But since starting Vogl & Blake, I have seen how receptive clients can be to feedback and criticism – it just takes a few important steps to bring them around.
Here are my top tips for presenting research and critical feedback to your clients.
1. Be empathetic and understand your clients
Being a good researcher goes hand in hand with being empathetic. But empathy isn’t just reserved for focus groups and vulnerable audiences. Our clients are people too, and just like everyone else, they need to feel understood. It’s our job as researchers to bring our clients the research they need to improve, but they won’t feel very inclined to accept feedback if they feel attacked. Spend time getting to know your clients and their motivations, putting in the effort with help them understand that you’re here to help and not just nitpick.
2. Don’t be scared to deliver bad news
The last thing you want to do is waste your client’s time and money. And that’s what will happen if you’re too scared to deliver the necessary feedback. Pretending that everything is okay, and that their target audience loves their product, can be very tempting. After all, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your client’s deserve to know the full picture. So don’t get caught up in trying to make people happy, instead focus on how to deliver your feedback in an effective way.
3. Focus on the positives, not the negatives
It’s a tried and tested technique, but sandwiching criticism between positive comments really does work. Your clients are going to be curious and also nervous to hear your feedback – it’s a natural reaction when you’re passionate about the product or service you’re creating. So if you present positives first, it eases your client’s nerves and actually makes them more responsive to criticism. It’s also important to follow up negative feedback and end your findings with positive takeaways. It serves as a reminder that your client’s efforts haven’t been a waste of time, and that any feedback you’re delivering is all meant to help.
4. Present your findings in person
There’s a reason why ending text messages with a full stops comes across as passive aggressive. The written word can sometimes look harsh, even when you don’t mean it to.
Let’s not forget how important facial expression and tone can be when delivering feedback. Whenever you can, it’s best to present your finding in person and follow this up with the written report. Coming together to discuss the findings provides your clients with a safe space to ask questions and discuss the negatives as well as the positives. Making the effort to meet with your clients gives them the chance to feel heard, and for you to exercise your empathy and listening skills.
5. Take your clients with you
Whenever you can, it’s a good idea to give your clients the chance to observe user testing in a non-intrusive way or involve them in a focus group. You need to do this in a way that does not bias the results. For example, if you are testing the design of a product, it’s probably best not to introduce them as the designer to the participants but rather, more vaguely, as someone that works for the organisation that you are carrying out the testing for.
If you can’t bring clients along to focus groups or UX testing, you can always ask participants for permission to record user feedback through Silverback or, another recording software, and share snippets of the footage with clients. Clients will be much more receptive to feedback if you take them along the journey and if they can hear the voices of their target audiences themselves.
Providing feedback to clients can be daunting and it can be tricky, but it’s one of the most important parts of our job. The worry around upsetting clients is a common concern many researchers have, and that not necessarily a bad thing, it just means we care about our client’s feelings. So if you find yourself getting a bit nervous or feeling unsure, just remember to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Most of us are naturally defensive, and that’s okay, but most of us also want to improve, and get our money’s worth. If you’re carrying out research for a client, it means they’ve taken the steps to learn about their audience, which is a great thing. Remember that being empathetic and kind also means being honest, so trust the process and give your client’s the best chance to meet their audience’s needs.